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Testimonial: Saving a Life

Note:  This testimonial to the Northern New York EMS System was sent by Jack Elder.  The Elder family summered in the islands years ago, but it had been almost 50 years since they came back.  “This trip was a family reunion of my brothers and their families – most of whom had never been to the area.    It was also a time of remembrance and a memorial service as my younger brother had passed away and his wishes were to have his ashes spread on the waters he so very much enjoyed swimming, diving and skiing on as a child.”  Those involved in this emergency situation are pleased this story is not only shared, but has such a happy ending.

So many times today you only hear the bad news - the things that are wrong or have gone wrong, that the system never works, etc.

I’d like to tell you of how the system and the people in that system worked, executed magnificently and most likely saved my life.

A resident of Atlanta, GA, I was vacationing with my family on the North Shore of Grindstone Island when on the morning of Aug 6th 2014, I experienced nausea and severe pains in my chest that then began radiating down my left arm. At the time I thought I probably couldn’t have been in a worse place – North shore, a stone’s throw across open water to the Canadian border and no access to the US mainland other than by boat – at least a 30 minute trip from Clayton.

As it turned out I could not have been more wrong in my assessment.

My daughter placed a 911 call and the Jefferson County 911 dispatcher took it from there. The first to arrive by boat (within 15 minutes) was Doctor Richard Withington – a volunteer with the Clayton Fire Department and resident of Round Island. He was followed shortly after by an EMT and two Paramedics with TI-Rescue (Thousand Island Emergency Rescue Services) based out of Clayton, NY. With a response district of over 154 sq. miles, of mostly rural terrain encompassing a large portion of the St. Lawrence River along the US/Canadian border, TI-Rescue is the 9-1-1 ambulance service provider for the towns of Clayton and Orleans. In my case, the TI-Rescue ambulance was water based via The Clayton Fire Boat (Last Chance).

My background and specialty is project and process management and I saw, what I believe was the best example of a well-organized, experienced and fluid team that morning.

The TI-Rescue team immediately began assessing and determined that I had a serious cardio blockage. They kept me apprised of everything they did – inserted IV’s, administered pain killers, gave me nitro, etc. And more importantly, made the judgment call to air-evac me directly from Grindstone Island via helicopter to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse versus taking me back by boat to shore.

That single decision, as the cardiologist who attended to me at UHH said, was the key to my successful outcome. I was told later that had Dana Reid the TI-Rescue Paramedic, not made the call to bring in the helicopter and get me to UHH immediately, my outcome would have been much different, possibly fatal.

The call by TI-Rescue to airlift me to UHH resulted in LifeNet responding. Based out of Watertown Municipal Airport, LifeNet is a community based program that provides air medical transport service throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The coordination between the various groups attending and involved Clayton Fire Department, (911), TI-Rescue, LifeNet and UHH was incredible. Four independent groups all working in unison as though they had done this dozens of times before. The physical hand-offs of myself and data on my physical condition between the groups, the execution of tasks, and communication all went flawlessly. To say that they all executed beautifully is an understatement. They were extremely professional and attentive to my needs and it was evident their sole focus was assessing, stabilizing and getting me to a cardiac facility for treatment.

The task of getting me from the home in which we were staying, to the helicopter, was not without significant challenges. The terrain/topography of this area of Grindstone made it impossible for LifeNet to land their helicopter near the home. Also, the location of the room in which I was stabilized and layout of the home made it impossible to transport me on the gurney through the adjoining hallway. As a result, the TI-Rescue/LifeNet team, as well as Dr. Withington and my grandson, had to pass me, gurney and all, through the window of my bedroom and then carry me more than a ¼ mile up a hill and across an open field to the LifeNet helicopter. The combined weight of both myself and the gurney required six men and four stops along the way, changing positions, to reach the helicopter. Based on the perspiration, heavy breathing and shifting of their weight, I don’t think they could have reached the helicopter too soon.

During high stress and critical periods like this, where you have multiple individuals/groups all interacting together, it is a significant challenge to insure information is passed correctly and timely, physical hand-offs are seamless, tasks are completed and time lines are met. I am so very thankful to the Clayton Fire Department TI-Rescue, LifeNet and UUH teams for doing their jobs so very, very well. They have allowed me to embark on, what my cardiologist here in Atlanta expects to be, a full recovery and return to my normal life. With a few exceptions – my days of pizza, thick steaks and chocolate shakes are a fond memory of the past – not to be repeated.

The Thousand Islands Region is very fortunate to have Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service (TI-Rescue) and the Clayton Fire Department (Last Chance) available when emergencies happen. These two non-profits deserve the continued support of the community and I strongly encourage you to do so.

And the outcome –  I had full blockage of the Right Coronary Artery.  The doctors at UUH placed two stents in my heart to open the blockage.  I spent two days in the hospital and was discharged to return to my home in Alpharetta, GA. I began cardiac rehab at Emory Hospital and the long term outlook is very positive. 

By Jack Elder, Alpharetta, GA

Jack Elder and his wife Judie, their daughters Kirsten and Holli an grandson Justin, have lived in Alpharetta, GA (metro Atlanta) for the past 18 years.  Jack is the President of I/DC Technologies and a Managing Director of eClinical Technologies.   He credits his father for a love of technology and an inquiring mind which guided him through his business career.  At 72 he admits he should probably be retired but thoroughly enjoys the work he is doing and lives by the adage, “work’s not work if you’re having fun”.   Born in the Pittsburgh, PA area, he first visited the Thousand Islands (Clayton/Gananoque) when his family vacationed here in 1955.  They enjoyed it so much they kept coming back for the next 15 years.

Posted in: News Article
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Bill Beaulieu
Comment by: Bill Beaulieu
Left at: 2:28 PM Monday, September 15, 2014
Jack though we have never met we share two things at least . A love for the "River" and life changing a cardiac event blocking our Right Coronary Artery. You are certainly blessed to have received the right help at the right time and I wish you a speedy recovery and rehab. My experience was an eye opener for me to count each day as a blessing and to finally retire and enjoy the beauty and serenity the River offers amongst other of life's gifts. Pizza, steaks and chocolates shakes will be missed but with the help of a great EMS system you'll be back soon I hope to experience another sunrise and sunset over the beautiful Thousand Islands Thanks for sharing a wonderful story!
Skip Tolette
Comment by: Skip Tolette
Left at: 5:02 PM Monday, September 15, 2014
What a great article--thank you for sharing--from the north shore of Grindstone we appreciate the wonderful services and numerous Clayton volunteers who make it work. Skip (& Joan) Tolette
Jack Elder
Comment by: Jack Elder
Left at: 11:30 PM Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Bill - thank you for that wonderful comment. Appears we are kindred spirits with a lot to be thankful for and a common belief - count every day as a blessing to be savored and treasured. I've come to rethink the quote in the article and as much as I do enjoy “working", I would rather enjoy living and am taking steps to make that happen. I plan to return to the river next year with my family to embrace it, enjoy it and celebrate.

I wish you the best of health, life and many years of serenity the River offers.

- - - Jack
Cindy Hayes
Comment by: Cindy Hayes
Left at: 12:39 PM Wednesday, September 17, 2014
What a wonderful testimonial to the teamwork of those involved in your life-saving rescue! It's especially heartening to hear about the level of skill and commitment from the community rescue organizations that provide this life-line in the relatively remote TI region. My husband and I plan to semi-retire at The River someday soon from a neighborhood close to you (Suwanee, GA). We are blessed with good health, but as a health care professional, I have worried about access to support in emergency situations. Thank you for sharing your experience. We wish you a speedy rehab at Emory and many beautiful sunsets at The River!